Ontario Civilian Police Commission appoints administrator to run Thunder Bay police board

The Ontario Civilian Police Commission has ordered an administrator to take over the duties of the police services board in Thunder Bay, Ont., for at least one year until the board can be reconstituted with new members.

Report says police board failed to deal with 'clear and indisputable pattern' of racism

A report by Sen. Murray Sinclair recommended the disbanding of the police services board in Thunder Bay, Ont., for at least one year. The Ontario Civilian Police Commission subsequently accepted that recommendation. (CBC)

The Ontario Civilian Police Commission has effectively stripped power away from the civilian board that oversees the Thunder Bay Police Service and ordered an administrator to take over those duties for at least one year.

That comes in the wake of a 160-page report on the results of a probe done by Sen. Murray Sinclair into the conduct of the police services board — the civilians that are supposed to oversee police. It comes two days after the release of another scathing report by Ontario's Independent Police Review Director that found racism influenced a number of investigations into the deaths of Indigenous people.

Sinclair's report found that Thunder Bay police's failure to address problems related to systemic racism "can be traced back to an absence of leadership from the board," and that, among other things, in light of the evidence before it, the board "has failed to appreciate the extent of the policing crisis within the Indigenous community."

"The board has perpetuated systemic discrimination that has directly impacted First Nation peoples in Thunder Bay, and thus lost the capacity, without the reforms recommended, to function as the governor of the police on behalf of the community," Sinclair wrote.

The report by the former head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who was appointed as lead investigator by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) in 2017, recommended that the police board be dismantled and, except for newly-appointed board chair Celina Reitberger, not return to their positions.

"The board has failed to recognize and address the clear and indisputable pattern of violence and systemic racism against Indigenous people in Thunder Bay," Sinclair wrote. "Moreover, the board's failure to act on these issues in the face of overwhelming documentary and media exposure is indicative of willful blindness."

Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro and Coun. Kristen Oliver were just named to the board after the October municipal election.

Sinclair's recommendations and the ruling by the police commission's executive chair, Linda Lamoureux, are appropriate, said Alvin Fiddler, the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a territorial political organization that represents 49 First Nations in Northern Ontario.

"I think it's been made very clear ... that there's just severe disfunction, just a lack of leadership," Fiddler said. "The police service, they have an opportunity to press the reset button and you start off by acknowledging the severity of the situation."

Sinclair's report called the situation in Thunder Bay an "emergency."

Administrator to function as interim board

The ruling by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission means that Thomas Lockwood, a Mississauga-based lawyer — that Lamoureux, in her order, wrote has "significant" experience with the justice system, policing and public law — will temporarily have all powers of the police board, and the sole vote, while it is rebuilt.

He will maintain those until new members have satisfied the criteria needed to vote, which will be to take necessary training. Sinclair's report said that needs to include instruction "on the Indigenous people of the region to familiarize members with the historical, social and cultural context that shapes policing in the city."

The board's vice chair, Don Smith, who has been on the board since 2013, tendered his resignation on Friday. He said that, while Sinclair's report makes some valid points, he doesn't agree with the notion that the board failed to provide leadership and was negligent.

"I mean, my decision was whether to fight it and stand up to OCPC or to just, in the sake of harmony for the city, resign," he said, adding that the Police Services Act ties the boards hands somewhat in terms of how much it can get involved in the police service's operations.

"We all gave our heart and soul to the community, I mean, basically it's a community volunteer job," Smith told CBC News. "All the time that I served on this board, it was very strong ethically and I've done everything in my power to promote harmony and reconciliation."

"I think a lot of it is politically driven," he added.

While Fiddler said he's pleased with the appointment of an administrator, he was concerned with how hastily he was chosen.

It showed a "lack of consultation with our leadership in terms of who this individual should be."

Recommendations for new board

Sinclair's report makes 45 recommendations for the board going forward, including those around the appointment of an administrator; additional recommendations deal with board governance, its role in promoting diversity in the police service through the oversight of recruiting, retention and promotion, oversight of the police chief and deputy chief and relationships with Indigenous groups.

Some of the recommendations include:

  • Establishing a governance committee to review and propose revisions where necessary to all existing policies.
  • Engaging with First Nations organizations, including the local chapter of the Bear Clan and education authorities, to conduct a formal review of the police's missing person policy.
  • Developing and adopting an anti-racism strategy and policy for itself and the police service.
  • Developing, in conjunction with the police chief, a plan to build partnerships with First Nations and educational facilities to encourage Indigenous recruitment into the police service.
  • Establishing formal agreements with First Nations governance bodies to share information and raise cultural awareness.
  • Directing the police service to develop formal terms of reference for the Aboriginal Liaison Unit.

Other recommendations were aimed at the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to better support police boards, including the creation of standards governing the roles and governance tools for each board, as well as standard orientation training for new members.